The India Chapter


Since 1973 in America, there has been a religious war on women since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling which allowed for abortion. This has now been reversed, and abortion has been banned in 21 American states, which will become a nationwide ban if Donald Trump wins the US 2024 election, which he is widely predicted to.

Religious Beliefs or Women?

Since 1947, in India, there has also been a religious war on women. There is currently a global tug-of-war between trans people and women, especially prevalent in countries like the USA. Certain women feel that although trans people should be fully supported, certain aspects such as trans people in female sports infringe on women’s rights.

The same tug-of-war is happening in India, but instead of women’s rights vs trans rights, it’s religion vs women. And like an Indian Premier League (IPL) game in the cricket-obsessed country, Indians are taking sides. This also surpasses religion and seeps into gender as well. Muslim men have generally been critics of Modi’s policies on women, whereas Muslim women have championed and been supportive of the banning of certain Islamic practices.

Fundamentalism Vs Feminism

Banning the Burqa

The Karnataka High Court in Southwest India upheld a decision to ban the hijab after students weren’t allowed to wear them in classrooms. The ruling went to the Supreme Court, whose panel arrived at a split decision. In 2023 in Iran, after the death of three women by morality police because they weren’t wearing their hijab (referenced in my 2nd May article), Iranian women started the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement. They refused to wear their hijabs as they felt it was a male religious shackle.

Women wearing burqa

By banning the hijab, it can be argued that Modi has done exactly what Iranian women are fighting for. Women should be given the freedom to choose what they wear. But if the hijab isn’t banned and they may be forced to wear it, do women still have that freedom? Fourteen democracies around the world have banned the hijab or burqa as well as six Muslim-majority countries.

DA, (who wished to remain anonymous due to previous trouble when expressing her views), is a highly successful director, journalist and UK-based Pakistani Muslim. She said the following about the female Islamic practices of wearing a hijab and the male practice of being able to have multiple wives and conduct instant divorces. “I wasn’t given a choice of my gender, I was born a woman, so why would God make me a woman and then tell me I have to cover my body? I recently met a childhood friend who tried to persuade me to return to Pakistan. I told him in the UK, I can go to the beach and wear a bathing suit, without trouble. Whereas in Pakistan, I’ll be mobbed by the morality police!”

“What upsets me about multiple marriages is that it’s at the beginning of the Qur’an and one of the primary parts of Islam that Muslim men talk about.” DA tells a personal story of Muslim instant divorce. “My friend argued with her husband, and he said Talaq three times.

Her brothers came instantly and moved her out of the house. Her husband later regretted it and asked her to return, but it was too late. The brothers said that he has stated that he wants a divorce and didn’t allow her to return, and she didn’t receive any financial compensation.” When questioned about whether the philosophy towards women in Islam was influenced by the prophet Muhammad marrying a nine-year-old girl when he was in his 40s, “I think that’s a misinterpretation based on scriptures that were lost in translation, and his wife was nearer 14.”



“Feast” by Gargi Chandola.

Why the 2024 polygamy ban is dividing Muslims in India

Polygamy is the practice of having multiple wives. Since 1956, in India, polygamy wasn’t allowed for any citizens except for Muslims, who are permitted to have four wives. A polygamous Hindu or Christian marriage is null and void. In February 2024, The North Indian state of Uttarakhand (next to Nepal and on the border of Tibet) became the first state in the country to have passed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and approved an unprecedented uniform code for marriage, divorce and inheritance for Hindus, Muslims and other religious minorities under the new legislation.

Channel 4 Documentary: The men with many wives.

This makes laws on marriage, divorce and inheritance the same for every individual in the state. From now on, personal religious laws will not matter, irrespective of religion. The new law bans polygamy for Muslims (it was already banned for all other religions) and also includes a uniform process for divorce in this state. Although polygamy became illegal for Muslims in one Indian state in February 2024. For the rest of India, having multiple wives is still allowed if you are Muslim.

Group of men and women celebrating
Women celebrate the 2024 law in one state where polygamy was banned. If the BJP wins, the rest of India is expected to follow. If Congress wins, it may be reversed. AP photo

BJP leaders said the new code is a major reform, which aims to modernise the country’s Muslim personal laws and guarantee complete equality for women. Previously, there was much inconsistency. For inheritance, in some geographical sects of Hinduism, such as the Bunts community that originated in Karnataka state, women inherit all property and men receive nothing. However, in Islam, husbands get up to 75% of any inheritance. A wife is entitled to a quarter share of her deceased husband’s estate if she has no children, and sons usually inherit twice as much as their sisters.

The rest of India, or at least other states ruled by the BJP, are expected to introduce similar legislation if the BJP wins these national elections ending on 1st June. If the INC alliance wins, the decision could remain in one state or could be reversed.

According to the BBC, “A 28-year-old Muslim woman’s petition to a court, seeking to prevent her husband from taking another wife without her written consent, has put the spotlight on the practice of polygamy among Indian Muslims. Reshma, who uses only one name, also wants the Delhi High Court to order the government to frame laws to regulate the “regressive and abhorrent practice” of bigamy or polygamy.”

Shayara Bano, talking to Reuters, heaved a sigh of relief at the law banning polygamy in her state, the culmination of a year’s long effort, including her case before the nation’s Supreme Court. “I can now say that my battle against age-old Islamic rules on marriage and divorce has been won,” said Bano, a Muslim woman whose husband chose to have two wives and divorced her by uttering “talaq” three times.”

“Islam’s allowance for men to have two or more wives at the same time had to end,” she told Reuters. “But Sadaf Jafar did not cheer the new law, which abolishes practices such as polygamy and instant divorce, even though she has been fighting in court against her husband for marrying another woman without her consent.

Polygamy is permissible in Islam under strict rules and regulations, but it is misused,” said Jafar, who is seeking alimony from her husband after a divorce. The new law will “affect Muslim men more and create social problems and divisions,” said Jafar, a Congress party spokesperson in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.”

When asked, Bano also opposed polygamy and agreed it could be misused. But the new law “is a blessing for us.”

The adoption of the Uniform Civil Code in one Indian state has initiated a discussion between women’s rights and religious rights, which holds more significance in India’s largest religious minority. This includes women whose lives were devastated when their husbands entered into multiple marriages. Some, like activist Bano, 49, celebrate the new provisions as the overdue assertion of secular law over Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce, and inheritance. For others like Jafar, including Muslim politicians and Islamic scholars, it is an unwelcome stunt by Modi’s BJP.

A 2013 survey found 91.7% of Muslim women nationwide said a Muslim man should not be allowed to have another wife while married to the first. In 2017, the Supreme Court found the Islamic instant divorce unconstitutional, but the order did not ban polygamy or some other practices that critics say violate equal rights for women.

The landmark ruling is expected to pave the way for other states ruled by Modi’s BJP to follow, despite angry opposition from some leaders of the country’s 172 million Muslims. Many Muslims accuse Modi’s party of pursuing a Hindu agenda that discriminates against them by imposing laws that interfere with Islam.

Sharia permits Muslim men to have up to four wives and has no stringent rules to prohibit the marriage of minors. While BJP leaders and women’s rights activists say the code aims to end regressive practices, some Muslim politicians say it violates the fundamental right to practise religion. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board called the code impractical and a direct threat to a multi-religious Indian society, adding that the government has no right to question Sharia law.

Talking to Business Standard, Asaduddin Owaisi, President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, said, “The legislation is merely a Hindu code that applies to all.” However, there is one code in any Islamic state. Non-Muslim countries like the UK and USA also have one law for marriage and divorce for all citizens, which has the same conditions as the “Hindu code,” and Triple Talaq is also banned.

Owaisi says, “This practice needs regulation to alleviate the plight of Muslim women.” He added, “I have the right to practise my religion and culture. This bill forces me to follow a different religion and culture. In our religion, inheritance and marriage are part of religious practice,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.



“Purge” by Gargi Chandola

Muslim Instant Divorce – “Divorce by WhatsApp”

The Triple Talaq is a principal element of Islam. Although still practised in many Islamic state countries, Muslim-majority countries or countries where Sharia Law is mandatory, it is banned in many Muslim countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, as well as the two Muslim-majority countries to the left and right of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The practice, which stretches back over a thousand years, allows a husband to divorce his wife by simply saying the Arabic word for divorce, Talaq, (“Freeing” or “Untying the knot”) three times.

The husband doesn’t need to initiate formal divorce proceedings. By saying the Arabic word for divorce, Talaq, to his wife three times, he doesn’t have to provide compensation and the divorce is complete. There are advantages as well to this for both sides; it avoids hefty legal fees and lengthy court cases, as well as potentially lengthy disputes and arguments. By contrast, a Muslim woman seeking a divorce must gain the permission of her husband, a cleric, or other Islamic authorities. TIME magazine reports that some Muslim women say they have even been “divorced by letter” or, according to AFP, “even by WhatsApp.”

In January 2016, Afreen Rehman was recovering from a road accident when her husband sent a letter to her uncle and grandfather. Syed Warsi had handwritten the word Talaq thrice. Their marriage of 16 months came to an end.

According to the New York Times, “Many Hindus, who have long argued that the same laws on marriage and divorce should apply to all religious groups, see the practice of ending a marriage by uttering three words as an insult to women. Several Muslim groups, however, had been intent on preserving it, suspicious of any government efforts to chip away at what they see as their fundamental religious rights.”

After Indian independence in 1947, Muslims were allowed to practise Sharia law pertaining to marriage, while Hinduism and other religions followed the law of the land. In 2017, India’s Supreme Court banned Triple Talaq, or instant divorce, practised by some in the Muslim community. The bill was the result of decades of campaigning by Muslim women’s groups and victims against the practice.

There are no official statistics on the prevalence of instant divorce in India, but a New York Times study found that among 525 divorces, 404 of them were through Triple Talaq. According to Ravi Prasad, India’s law and justice minister, “201 cases of instant divorce have been reported across the country, even since the court’s ruling.”

According to the New York Times, the opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), which counts the 172 million Muslims in India as a main constituency, has resisted challenging Muslim divorce practices. In 1985, the Supreme Court ordered the husband of a 62-year-old divorced Muslim woman to pay her alimony of approximately $15 a month.

The Congress party, in power at the time, nullified the court’s decision and pushed parliament to adopt a law shifting responsibility for supporting a divorced wife, away from her husband after three months, to her relatives or Muslim charities. That law was a momentous disservice to Muslim women, according to Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of the Mahila Andolan, one of the Muslim women’s advocacy groups that filed a brief in the case. Instead of making husbands responsible for helping support divorced wives, she told the New York Times, the law left women “to beg for maintenance from various sources,” she said in the 2014 study.

Ishrat Jahan, a plaintiff in the Indian case, said her husband divorced her over the phone from Dubai. “Then he remarried in the village and snatched my children from me,” she said in a television interview. She said she was extremely happy with the court decision. “I never thought this would happen.”



“Dreaming With Open Eyes” by Jayeeta Chatterjee

Prior to the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), inheritance laws in Uttarakhand state (north of Delhi), just as in the rest of India, varied according to religion. There was one law for Muslims and one law for all other religions. The new law, although just in one Indian state so far, places women on par with men and completely distances itself from the norms peculiar to mainstream religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.

Rights of Muslim women: The property is divided among the heirs based on fixed shares prescribed by the Quran. Under Islamic law, a Muslim woman governed by the Muslim Personal Law is entitled to get 1/8th share of her husband’s property if the couple had children; otherwise, she gets 1/4th share. However, the share of a female heir is less than half of that of the male heirs. In some cases, the male heir will inherit 75%, and the female heir will get a share of the male (most commonly 5%).

Rights of Hindu women: The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, governs the succession and inheritance laws for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. Section 14 of said Act specifies: “A Hindu woman has the same right to her deceased parents’ property as that of a Hindu male.” Similarly, there is no difference between the rights of a man and a woman when it comes to the inheritance of property.

Rights of Christian, Parsi, and Jew women: In the case of Christians, Parsis, and Jews, the Indian Succession Act, 1925, applies. A Christian woman is entitled to a pre-determined share. In the absence of the parents, the property is distributed between the Parsi woman and her children, so the widow and each child receive equal shares in the estate of the deceased.

A stark difference between the laws is that Muslim women can’t get more than that inherited by the males in the family and commonly get exactly half of their male counterparts. There have been intensive debates and proposals starting from the very constituent Assembly that made the Indian Constitution to have a Uniform Civil Code. As under the provisions of Article 44 of the Constitution, it was to provide Indian society with a set of laws ensuring equal treatment for all.


“Silencing a Voice” by Sasha

Women in Politics

Geeta Pandey for the BBC writes, “So how did the BJP become the party of choice for Indian women?” “Because of Mr Modi,” says Sanjay Kumar for the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). “It’s not all of a sudden that the party has become appealing to women. Mr Modi is definitely a factor – the major factor,” he adds.

Modi became “the catalyst of change” who regularly talked about women’s issues at public gatherings and election rallies – in his speeches from 2014 to 2019, women featured more times in the top five topics. The BJP has also been giving much more representation to women in politics.

There is much interest in female voter participation in this election considering the highest participation of female voters in the history of Indian elections was in 2019. In 2019, the BJP fielded more female candidates than any other party and appointed more female ministers than any of the previous governments.

After 27 years in the making, with nearly every successive Indian government trying but failing to pass it into law after facing staunch opposition, the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed in the lower house with near unanimity. This would reserve one-third of seats in the parliamentary lower house and state assemblies for women. Kanta Singh, a UN representative, called it “one of the most progressive and transformative pieces of legislation, which would bring women into the highest decision-making bodies.”

Women on Film

Award-winning Bollywood movie star Raveena Tandon says, “The Indian film industry has witnessed a change in approach towards women, who are playing lead roles, a reflection of the emergence of strong women leaders. Since 2014, Modi has consistently emphasised the importance of gender equality. Women empowerment has been a pivotal focus of Modi’s leadership. He has steered the nation from just women development to women-led development.”

The Modi Question: Is Modi a Feminist?

Modi has undoubtedly been a champion of women’s rights. Three restrictive practices, which are banned in every non-Muslim or Christian-majority country and in many Islamic countries, such as Muslim instant divorce, have been banned in India due to Modi, but with massive resistance from the INC. There is a paradox here: even though the BJP has banned these practices, instead of helping Muslim women, Modi is still seen as Islamophobic and trying to criminalise Muslim men.

However, the INC, even though they have fought for over 40 years to maintain these archaic laws, are still seen as champions of minorities, even though they allowed only one religion to have four wives. If Modi wins, he is expected to pursue a nationwide ban on polygamy for Muslim men as well, which would bring India in line with every other non-Muslim majority country in the world.

The argument for opponents to the ban on marrying multiple wives or instant divorce is that it is encroaching on their religion. But this argument makes little sense considering India’s neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh, second and third in the world in terms of Muslim populations, after Indonesia, have both banned these practices as well as every non-Muslim country. So why isn’t it an encroachment of religion in these countries, but it is in India?

Modi has fought very hard for women’s rights. Women can legitimately say that they have more rights now than at any time since Independence. However, that has come at a price. Many Muslim groups feel that Modi’s female-centric policies have diluted the power of their religion.

It could be debated that in any other country, any head of state who banned 1,000-year-old, arcane, restrictive laws for women, which were protested against for 40 years by minority women, would become a feminist hero. Unfortunately for Modi, he has achieved this in India, so these policies have made him a villain among many Muslims.

The Modi Answer:

Due to this, Modi is a feminist and pro-women’s rights. But he is also perceived as anti-Muslim rights or at the very least, anti-Muslim men’s rights.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3: Human Rights – The 500-year Battle Between Muslims and Hindus